This is not going to end well

British prime minister David Cameron has begun a campaign against access to pornography on the internet. He wants all new computers to block pornography as the default. People wanting to view it have to explicitly request that they be allowed to do so and show that they are above a certain age before being granted permission.

There are, of course, some immediate problems with such a move. On the one hand, the question of what constitutes pornography has long been a thorny and unresolved issue, getting more so with time as more sexually explicit material becomes part of mainstream popular culture. Who is going to decide what material is to be blocked?

Secondly, giving commercial vendors and their filtering software control over what you can access on the internet means also giving them access to monitor all your internet use, and raises privacy issues similar to what the NSA is currently doing.

Furthermore, the idea of the government and private companies deciding what sites should be put on a blacklist and then you having to ask them permission to access them raises obvious freedom of speech and association concerns. An article in Wired says that the filters cover a lot more than just pornography

Of course, as with all efforts at censorship, this is all done in the name of ‘protecting children’.

What surprises me is that such a move is being advanced in the UK rather than the US. In fact, you might have expected that conservative politicians in the US, normally so vocal on issues of sex, would have seized on Cameron’s proposal and urged that the US do something similar. Yet they have been conspicuously silent about Cameron’s move. It may be that politicians and people in the US, although publicly far more prudish than those in the UK, realize that trying to restrict access to pornography is likely to be the kiss of death.

People may love the Bible in public but they also love their porn in private.


  1. Marshall says

    There was a good response on reddit when you can read here which I think addresses the issue pretty well.

  2. says

    I love asking people to define “pornography” and provide a description of an algorithm that would allow a computer to “know it when it sees it”. It’s more entertaining than pulling the wings off flies,

  3. kyoseki says

    I’m actually not that surprised that the UK is trying this first.

    Free speech in the UK (I’m British) has always suffered far more greatly from laws designed to prevent people from having their feelings hurt, whereas in the US it’s a core tenet of the Bill of Rights.

    It’s also generally my experience that while nudity is not uncommon even on network television, pornography featuring penetration was pretty rare – eg. typical UK “lads mags” didn’t feature intercourse, so with access to the internet, the disparity between ‘mainstream’ pornography and online pornography (usually American) became more apparent.

  4. slc1 says

    The difference is that any number of anti-pornography laws passed in the US have been found unconstitutional and a violation of the first amendment. Can’t happen in the UK which does not have a written constitution.

    Considering that such software can be easily bypassed by knowledgeable computer experts, I am afraid that Cameron is whistling past the graveyard.

  5. sailor1031 says

    Considering that such software can be easily bypassed by knowledgeable computer experts

    Indeed. Bypassed by most children too I should think, all of whom are likely more savvy than Cameron. There’s already plenty of filtering available for parents who want to use it. Oh – I’m suggesting parents themselves ought to monitor and control what their children access online? Okay, forget that then.

    doG bless the nanny state. It’s almost as if there weren’t any real social problems for conservatives to be concerned about. Of course this is just the camel’s nose – what else will they block when it suits their purpose? It’s just a government grab for control of an information resource (since they already seem to control what is in the “news”papers.

  6. MNb says

    Cameron acts counterfactual. Thanks to internet we don’t have to pay anymore for porn. As a result the industry has seen an enormous decline since say 20 years ago. This is similar to the CD-market.
    Free available porn in near infinite amounts is the best way to combat it.

  7. AsqJames says

    I think it’s important to note that not only is the proposal almost certainly technically unfeasible, the justifications given are hard to take seriously given other actions taken by David “Call me Dave” Cameron’s government.

    Reasons advanced include:
    – Reducing the availability of images of child sexual abuse (aka “child porn”) while severely cutting funding for CEOP (Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre) which is the dedicated national police agency tackling and tracking pedophiles and depictions of child abuse images on the internet. This government is also cutting the budgets of every police force in England and Wales, thus further hobbling actual law enforcement activities in this and every other area.

    – Breaking the well-known* link between violent or degrading depictions of women in porn and attitudes to women in real life while de-funding (and looking to privatise) rape crisis centres.

    Also. while campaigning to drum up support for this measure, various politicians have said that the “average age of first exposure to online porn is 11.” so clearly something must be done; this is something; therefore this must be done. It matters not that the “average age of first exposure” stat is completely made up.

    The best evidence we have comes from the EU “Kids Online” survey from 2012 which surveyed 25,000 children between the ages of 11 and 16. 11% of children in the UK said they had encountered “sexually explicit material” on websites (this is below the EU average of 14%).

    Should it surprise me that I haven’t seen this survey referenced by any government minister or any of the papers** giving their full-throated support in the name of protecting our children?

    * Although the evidence for this is mostly anecdotal and what good evidence we do have suggests comprehensive sex & relationships education is by far the most effective approach, nevertheless this is “well known” because, well, it just makes sense dunnit?

    ** Papers such as the notorious Daily Mail which earlier this month published a story titled “Is that really appropriate? Kourtney Kardashian dresses one-year-old daughter Penelope in a leopard print string bikini”. To allow their readers to judge the appropriateness of a one-year-old’s swimwear, we are treated to no fewer than 6 photos, one of which was captioned “Bouncing baby: Little Penelope celebrated her first birthday earlier this month and is growing up fast.”
    If that sounds an entirely innocent phrase just search the DM website for “growing up fast”, “all grown up” and similar phrases. Basically it’s code for “this celebrity child is near or just past her 16th birthday (the UK age of consent) so now we can legitimately perv over her (through a papparazzi lens, with or without her consent)”.

  8. lorn says

    Drive it underground and marginalize it and there will be no need for anyone to limit how far they go. Give it time and you will see a market form for the farthest extremes anyone can imagine. Things driven below the surface tend to decompose in the nastiest, and most harmful, ways possible.

  9. slc1 says

    I have a suspicion that this is nothing more then Cameron pandering to his right wing, which was not at all enthusiastic about his championing same sex marriage. In the US, it’s called throwing them a bone.

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